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Clancy: what’s the legacy?

Clancy: what’s the legacy?

🕔12.Sep 2017

Just twenty months is not a long time in which to develop an enduring legacy as a political leader. As Enoch Powell wrote, “all political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of all human affairs.”

Cllr Clancy himself said in his resignation statement yesterday that he had the best of intentions – but his leadership came to an abrupt end due his own mistakes. That’s true, but it was also because of how he handled the aftermath of “no deal” with Unite writes Kevin Johnson.

John Clancy will be missing from the chamber of the council today. Acting leader Ian Ward will be left to answer questions from councillors as well as the Improvement Panel. He might be holding the reins for a while yet if the Labour Party decide to keep to the usual election timetable and wait until the May AGM.

However, Cllr Clancy could have to return to answer questions from at least one council committee before too long.

In his resignation statement, he highlighted the introduction of Brummie Bonds as one of his proudest achievements. In April, he announced the sale of the first bond, raising £45 million from Phoenix Life. The Bond, which costs less than interest with the Public Works Loan Board, will be put toward housing.

Cllr Clancy had made housing his number one priority, once the improvement process and the budget were on track and children’s social care was heading in the right direction. The former leader had made housing his key theme when the Local Government Association was in town for its annual conference a few weeks ago.

Birmingham needs 89,000 new homes over the next fifteen years to address an acute housing shortage and meet the needs of Birmingham’s growing population.

Cllr Clancy set out a strategy to build enough new homes of all types; enable people to get and keep the housing they need and eradicate homelessness and improve existing housing and its management. He never missed an opportunity to highlight the leading role of the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust, which has built over 2,000 new homes for sale or affordable rent since 2009.

Along with Brummie Bonds, pension reform was John Clancy’s other pet project during his backbench years. His work resulted in a book, The Secret Garden. He wanted to reduce the level of management fees paid by local government pension funds, which he argued were delivering poor returns. He also wanted to unlock funds and put them to good use in helping to finance new homes, school, railways and roads.

It was a subject on which the now ex-leader was passionate. It led to rows with fellow West Midlands council leaders over the management of their shared fund and with his own officers who he thought were too slow to develop his ideas into firm policy. But he did manage to reduce the Council’s annual payments and his proposals attracted the interest of the Conservative Government when the Treasury started looking at the ideas late last year.

Exiting the joint venture agreement with Capita in Service Birmingham was another of Cllr Clancy’s big themes before coming leader. In May, Cabinet agreed to wind up the company three years early in a bid to save £43 million. It will close next May, with 200 staff moving back to the council.

For just about every leader in recent memory, children’s social services has been a political nightmare in Birmingham. In May, Ofsted found there was notable progress which was a significant development toward Birmingham escaping improvement ‘special measures.’ Children’s social services will move into a Trust from next May.

READ: Clancy – questions of conduct

Ironically, until the last few weeks Cllr Clancy’s ability to steady the ship and encourage the Improvement Panel to step back had been one of his signature successes. Today, the Improvement Panel – which never went away – is meeting acting leader Cllr Ward to find out more about just what has been going on.

Supporters of John Clancy promoted his ability to take decisive actions as a leader.

His appointment of Stella Manzie was seen as proof that top council managers would work for Birmingham and for Cllr Clancy. But, the relationship between leader and interim chief executive has been at the very heart of this political crisis. That was laid bare in the email exchanges revealed by Chamberlain Files.

Stella Manzie’s contract was renewed last week. John Clancy left yesterday.

The departure of Mark Rogers, former chief executive, was also a defining act. The leader had been expressing full confidence in his top official (in true football club style) but just days later was arranging his “early retirement.”

In reality, Cllr Clancy was at least in part responding to ‘advice’ from external influencers, not least the Communities Department.

The lack of engagement by Cllr Clancy of his cabinet, including deputy leader Ward, in that decision became symbolic of his leadership style. So too did his trait of going ‘dark’ when all hell was breaking loose behind him.

Strangely, Cllr Clancy’s long-held idea of bringing back the system of committees to administer the council – instead of leader and cabinet – never materialised.

Many will criticise his lack of collegiate style and tendency to listen to advice beyond experienced officers and key staff.

In Labour circles, talk of camps and factions is never far away. But the Boreites – loyal supporters of Sir Albert Bore – cannot be held responsible for John Clancy’s demise.

In truth, Cllr Clancy did not build a sufficient coalition of support inside and outside the council.

The lack of public support from friends and advocates in recent days was telling.

MPs, party officers, unions, council officials, fellow councillors and DCLG were either making strong representations for him to step down or keeping very quiet.

No political leader can hope to survive for very long in those conditions. By yesterday lunchtime, John Clancy had finally bowed to the inevitable and started to make the necessary preparations for his departure.

John Clancy had a long time in which to develop his leadership vision. Those years of challenging Sir Albert Bore were eventually rewarded when, to borrow from the Foreign Secretary, the ball came loose at the back of the scrum.

Which makes his relatively short tenure as leader all the more disappointing.

But John Clancy confounded his critics when he started as leader. The backbencher with no experience of a Cabinet post or committee chairmanship coped far better than many had predicted.

He reached out to opposition group leaders, the Conservative Communities Secretary, business leaders and many others to bring a fresh approach to leadership of the council.

But he ran out of political road, made some serious errors of judgement in recent weeks and paid the price for not having developed and maintained enough strong relationships.

The former leader mentioned the importance of family in his resignation statement. We hope he has more time to devote to them – but also to find space to think up some new political ideas.

The radical backbencher still has a contribution to make in a city and council that benefits from the legacy of the politician who graces our masthead. It was, after all, Joseph Chamberlain about who Powell was writing when he penned that line about political failure.

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